Feeling of solstalgia inspires Ocean Networks Canada residency

How do we feel when the ecosystems we know and love start to vanish? What happens when our memories no longer match our physical surroundings? And what about the ecosystems we don’t see? These are the kind of questions inspiring the work of Megan Harton, the latest Ocean Networks Canada Artist-in-Residence.

A passionate composer, audio engineer and sound artist currently pursuing a Master’s in Music Technology at UVic’s School of Music, Harton is the fifth artist-in-residence in this continuing partnership between ONC and the Faculty of Fine Arts. Their proposed project, solastalgia [soon to be what once was] is envisioned as an immersive intermedia art installation employing nostalgic retro iconography to create a multisensory experience delving into the emotional and psychological effects of environmental change.

“My artistic practice is primarily about using sound technologies in artistic ways,” Harton explains. “I found that Ocean Networks Canada had all these hydrophones in the Pacific Ocean and there are new recordings every hour on the hour, both visual and audio. My main impetus was to see if there was a way to juxtapose the same recordings over a period of time, and the idea just grew from there to incorporate ideas of ecological loss and grief.”

A graduate student partnership between Fine Arts and ONC, previous artists-in-residence include Neil Griffin (Writing, 2023), Colin Malloy (School of Music, 2022), Dennis Gupa (Theatre, 2020) and Colton Hash (Visual Arts, 2018).

Exploring solastalgia

Proposed for Fall 2024, solastalgia [soon to be what once was] will explore themes of grief and nostalgia, emphasizing the delicate state—and impending loss—of our ecosystems. As well as creating a crafted sonic composition based on natural sounds, oral histories and contemporary environmental data, Harton is also interested in incorporating visual elements by presenting the materials with iconic vintage and somewhat antiquated apparatuses like a Viewmaster, film photography, a Speak & Spell and VHS tapes to create an engaging narrative highlighting the tension between past and present.

“The installation will foster a deeper connection between individuals and their evolving surroundings, while also raising awareness of environmental issues and bridging the gap between art, science and the community,” Harton explains.

Inspired by the book Mourning Nature: Hope at the Heart of Ecological Loss and Grief—a call to eulogize ecological loss in creative worksand drawing on environmental philosopher Glenn Albrecht’s concept of “solastalgia” (“the distress caused by environmental change”), Harton intends their installation will evoke a sense of connection, reflection and empathy in the audience by blending elements of nostalgia with the stark reality of environmental change.

“That idea really interests me,” they explain. “Yes, it’s a little bit existential and sad, but it hits home in a different way than just statistics or charts and graphs.”

Connecting with the coast

Growing up in Oakville, Ontario (midway between Toronto and Hamilton), Harton has limited experience with the West Coast, or oceans in general. “My grandmother lives in Tsawwassen, but I’d only been out here a couple of times before coming to UVic, and my only other ocean experience was going to the Atlantic Ocean on the East Coast. The largest body of water for me for a long time was Lake Ontario.”

Given their Ontario roots, Harton’s own experience with solstagia is rooted in Toronto’s 21st-century urban sprawl. “When I was a kid, sections of my town were mostly farmland, with fruit stands and horse stables, but are now townhouse subdivisions with schools due to a huge development and urbanization plan,” they recall. “Now this commuter suburb has more than twice the population of Victoria.”

Well-aware of their lack of personal connection with the Pacific Ocean, Harton sees themself as more a third-party information collector who can then respond  artistically. “I’m hoping to connect with  ONC’s scientists and community partners to incorporate Indigenous oral histories of the waters around here and contemporary scientific knowledge. This is some of the data and memories that I would like to draw from.”

Community connections

Indeed, collaboration is a key component to this project. While Harton’s primary graduate research is focused on gender bias in music production, they are eager to work with ONC’s team to ensure the installation is informed by current environmental knowledge.

A project as fascinating as the sounds it will harness, Harton’s immersive intermedia project aspires to be a transformative exploration, marrying art and science to provoke reflection, connection and empathy. solastalgia [soon to be what once was] promises to be a poignant testament to the intricate relationship between humanity and the changing environment, urging us to consider our role in preserving the delicate balance of the ecosystems we inhabit.

A passion for art history fuels Aashna Kulshreshtha’s international experience

Taking online classes during COVID at 3 a.m. India-time may not have been the ideal first-year experience, but it didn’t deter Aashna Kulshreshtha from enthusiastically pursuing her undergraduate degree in art history.

Born and raised in New Dehli, Aashna finished high school at an international boarding school in Uttarakhand, India, before initially enrolling at university in Rome. Unfortunately, she found that art history program to be excessively Eurocentric (and somewhat racist), which didn’t particularly match her own interests.

“We spent months on Italy and France, but only did a week on India and Mexico, which were clearly not so important from their perspective,” she recalls. “We weren’t even going to be tested on them!”

Attracted by the buzz around UVic’s AHVS

Unimpressed with Rome, Aashna was instead attracted by the buzz around UVic’s Department of Art History & Visual Studies, which offered a far more international approach to the field . . . despite Victoria being significantly smaller than either New Dehli (population 33 million) or Rome (4.3 million).

“Going to school in Rome prepared me to be in a culture that wasn’t India, but it also meant I’ve always been a third-culture kid everywhere I’ve gone,” she admits with a quick laugh. “So yeah, I had a bit of culture shock when I came here, but I don’t know from which culture.”

Rather than the excessive focus on big movements (Baroque, Renaissance), Aashna has been energized by UVic’s more global approach.

“I was just so surprised to see the amount of diversity here and the focus on Indigenous cultures, which had never even been brought up before in other places,” she says. “UVic is a great place to study art history because the people here will support you and believe in you and are there to help you get your work done. Every day I found people in the department who would tell me what I could do with my degree, what they’ve done with it . . . honesty, that open dialogue has been the most important thing for me.”

Learning core skills through workstudy

Like many UVic students, Aashna spent her off-hours at campus hotspots like Cinecenta, Felicita’s and the School of Music’s free concert series, but her favourite part was time spent as a paid workstudy student in the AHVS Visual Resources Collection. “Working here, you kind of get to see your degree in action before you even finish it,” she says. “I’ve learned so much about how to archive and research properly doing this job.”

Aashna’s responsibilities include scanning images from books required by the AHVS faculty members, researching online  gallery and museum collections, and updating the department’s database. “It’s a big responsibility to keep the database updated,” she explains. “Since we’re talking about India, for example, there’s a city called Kolkata but the British name for it was Calcutta—so we’ve been changing that in the database. It takes a lot of data entry just to keep up to date with global events. I’ve also gotten to know so many of the professors and staff up close, which has been nice because a lot of my degree was online during COVID so I felt like I didn’t know anyone.”

Understanding the world through art history

Yet despite a childhood interest in history, she feels the general attitude in India doesn’t exactly encourage cultural studies.

“It’s all about making money there, and most people feel you can’t really do that with these streams,” she says. “But art history is just a different way to help us understand the world: it’s a more subjective look at a time and allows you to have more introspective conversations with that era. It can also help you find your own identity and—when you see that in a historical sense—it gives you a more holistic approach to past civilizations.”

Indeed, Aashna has been so taken with her studies that, now that’s she’s completed her BA in art history, she’s already been accepted into the AHVS Master’s program for the fall, looking at India’s own vibrant history of art.

“I’m interested in looking at the effects of colonialism on modern Indian art, specifically in the case of women—not only as artists but also subjects and patrons,” she explains. “When we think about the 1800s onwards, it’s so influenced by colonialism; no one in India at that time was making art without the influence of colonialism. Even if they were rejecting it, the art was still in response to what was happening . . . that’s the research I’m wanting to pursue, in a very broad sense.”

Advice for future students

Now that her undergraduate studies are complete, she’s looking forward to her parents coming over from India for her convocation ceremony this spring. But does she have any for future students?

“Get out of your comfort zone and keep an open mind, because what you’re studying can really surprise you. Everyone tells themselves that they already know everything and don’t need any help, but it’s so important to be open to new experiences.”

She pauses and then laughs again. “Um, and keep frozen food handy. There’s no shame in it—you have to eat.”

Orion Series presents filmmaker Ali Kazimi

The Orion
Lecture Series in Fine Arts

Through the generous support of the Orion Fund in Fine Arts, the Faculty of Fine Arts, University of Victoria, is pleased to present:

Ali Kazimi

Documentary filmmaker

“Documentarian as Witness: The Making of Beyond Extinction

10:30am-noon, Thursday, May 30

Online only via Zoom  Free & open to all

(Meeting ID: 839 7959 0560. Password: 119640)

Presented by UVic’s Department of Art History & Visual Studies

For more information on this lecture please email: arthistory@uvic.ca

About Ali Kazimi

A professor of cinema and media arts at Ontario’s York University, Ali Kazimi is a filmmaker, writer and visual artist whose work deals with race, social justice, migration, history, memory and archive. He was presented with the Governor General’s Award for Lifetime Achievement in Visual and Media Arts in 2019, as well as a Doctor of Letters honoris causa from UBC. In 2023 he was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.

“My body of work reflects a commitment to storytelling that addresses social issues, cultural complexities, and historical injustices, aiming to provoke thought, inspire change, and foster understanding within diverse communities,” he says.

Kazimi has interwoven themes of place and belonging through many of his works—including Beyond Extinction (2022), which traces three decades of action by the Indigenous matriarchs of the Autonomous Sinixt for recognition of their existence and their claim to their ancestral territories and is an important document of BC history.

About the Orion Fund

Established through the generous gift of an anonymous donor, the Orion Fund in Fine Arts is designed to bring distinguished visitors from other parts of Canada—and the world—to the University of Victoria’s Faculty of Fine Arts, and to make their talents and achievements available to faculty, students, staff and the wider Greater Victoria community who might otherwise not be able to experience their work.

The Orion Fund also exists to encourage institutions outside Canada to invite regular faculty members from our Faculty of Fine Arts to be visiting  artists/scholars at their institutions; and to make it possible for Fine Arts faculty members to travel outside Canada to participate in the academic life of foreign institutions and establish connections and relationships with them in order to encourage and foster future exchanges.

Visit our online events calendar at www.events.uvic.ca

Remembering guitarist Alexander Dunn

It is with profound sadness that we share the news that our friend and School of Music colleague, Dr. Alexander Dunn, passed away unexpectedly on the morning of May 8. “This is a loss that will be deeply felt by members of our School and the wider music community,” says School of Music director Alexis Luko. “On behalf of the School of Music, our deepest condolences go out to Alex’s to loved ones, family, friends and colleagues.”

His sudden passing at just 68 was marked in this May 11 Times Colonist article, which quoted his cousin and lifelong guitar partner Robert Ward as saying, “even in high school, [Alex] was singled out as having a really unique talent.” Ward and Dunn performed together in Boston as recently as April 20, with Ward noting he was in fine health, good spirits and played magnificently. “It was a brilliant performance,” Ward told the TC. “We had a great time playing what was a very difficult program.”

An enviable musical legacy

Beyond spending nearly 34 years at UVic building one of the strongest guitar programs in Canada, Alex also served as president and artistic director of the Victoria Guitar Society, the board of examiners for the Royal Conservatory, and worked as an instructor at the Victoria Conservatory of Music, and at the University of California, Irvine.

“This news is a great shock to the classical guitar world and leaves a chasm in the Victoria guitar scene, where Alex was instrumental in bringing us an amazing array of performers over the years,” posted the Victoria Guitar Society. “We will always remember Alex for his passion for music and his talent at passing this knowledge down to new generations. We’ve lost a friend and an artist.”

An internationally renowned guitarist, Alex was the recipient of UVic’s Sessional Lecturer Teaching Excellence Award in Fine Arts (2019/20), and he received the Provost’s Advocacy and Activism Award (2019) for his work in bringing the Orontes Guitar Quartet from Syria to UVic as visiting artists.

International respect

A virtuoso performer, acclaimed teacher, dedicated mentor and enthusiastic supporter of emerging young talent, Alex was a frequent guest performer at international guitar festivals and a popular adjudicator and competition judge across North America. He was also a protégé of internationally acclaimed flamenco guitar master Pepe Romero, with whom he toured.

“His sight reading and analytical skills are phenomenal,” Romero noted on Dunn’s website. “One need only to bring up his name in the guitar world, and you will sense immediately the respect he commands.” As the TC article notes, Dunn hosted several fundraising concerts by Romero in Victoria, and was instrumental in arranging for his former instructor and mentor to receive an honorary doctorate from UVic. Romero regards Dunn as one of the finest teachers he has encountered. “When I think of Alex, I think of a musician’s musician — a man who commands a vast knowledge of the repertoire,” Romero wrote. “He seems to know more about lute and early music than most specialists.”

Alex was also the recipient of an Institute of International Education grant and the prizewinner of the Internationaler Wettbewerb Freiburg. As a performer, he enchanted audiences across North America and worldwide in South America, Europe, Southeast Asia, China, Japan, Mexico, Cuba, South Africa and New Zealand.

With a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in Performance from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and a PhD in musicology from the University of California, San Diego, Alex also spent extensive summer studies at the Aspen Music Festival and the Salzburg Mozarteum.

Dunn with the Orontes Quartet in 2018

Advocacy & Activism

Alex passionately advocated so that people who come from less fortunate backgrounds could excel—a perfect example of this advocacy and activism was his effort in 2018 to bring the Orontes Guitar Quartet to UVic from war-torn Syria.

After the classical guitar ensemble were denied entry to the US in 2017 due to the ongoing Syrian travel ban, Alex spent nearly 18 months working with two US-based organizations — the Artist Protection Fund (APF), an innovative initiative of the Institute of International Education, and the non-profit organization Remember the River — to secure the Orontes a placement at UVic.

As the Canadian arm of Remember the River — a non-profit organization that brings guitars to refugee camps in the Middle East — Alex had already been helping send guitarists into impoverished communities, including on some First Nations. Building on that experience, he helped the Orontes Guitar Quartet escape war-ravaged Syria and to come to UVic to work under his mentorship. He described it at the time as “an exhilarating experience”. 

“Knowing that a group of musicians on the other side of the world — connected by common interests but separated by the chasm of human rights abuses and the outrages of war — was life-changing,” he said. “Suddenly the abstraction of religious and cultural conflict occupied my thoughts in a very real way.”

As a result, the quartet performed across Canada in numerous events supporting refugees and people from war torn countries, bringing a unique narrative of music surviving in times of violence and war. For his efforts, he was named one of just two recipients of UVic’s 2019 Advocacy & Activism Awards (below)

Alexander Dunn with UVic’s Director of Equity & Human Rights Cassbreea Dewis (left)
&  fellow award winner Sage Lacerte, plus then-VP Academic & Provost Valerie Kuehne